The college campus is an explosion of character, culture, education, ideology, religion, lifestyle, and worldview. Specifically at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) this fall semester, students from 78 different countries landed in Conway with the expectation to become something specific upon graduation. Most students are setting their sights primarily on an education that will help them step into the next phase of life. Whether they know it or not, everything I mentioned above will either directly or indirectly affect the way they mature into adulthood. To be clear, we’re talking about formation here.
In its most generic sense, formation is the process of being formed into something. The process of formation for the clay happens when the potter carefully shapes the clay into a well-designed bowl or jar.
One way to look at our two and four year institutions across the state, is to see them as intense formation machines. Without a doubt, everyone who steps onto a college campus, will have their character, culture, education, ideology, religion, lifestyle, and worldview formed into something by the time they leave.
The question is, how will they be formed?
This is where the importance of spiritual disciplines comes in for our college students. When a student begins to set up spiritual disciplines in their life, it is an act of resistance to the formation machine that has been set up around them, and an act of invitation of the formation given to us by the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus Christ.
Given the intensity of this formation machine known as the college campus, one of our primary responsibilities must be to help students set up spiritual disciplines that will help them turn away from the lure of unholy formation. Here are at least four disciplines that I believe are foundational for our students.
If we can’t pray, we can’t walk with God. Even if we understand the depths of scripture and all the doctrine our minds can handle, if we’re not praying, we’re not walking with God. In a world that’s aggressively trying to form us into something that looks anti-Christ, we need our hearts and minds to be re-aligned with God’s on an ongoing basis. This is what prayer does for us.
In prayer we are able to tap into how God views the world. What is God thinking? What is God feeling? What’s on God’s heart? When our students are in class or hanging out with friends, the only way they’ll be able to detect God’s heart in the moment is if they are able to be in constant prayer.
All that being said about prayer, Bible reading is incredibly important as well. How else will we know the truth? When we read the Bible with a humble heart we are resisting the idea that we are the source of all truth and wisdom. One of the popular ideologies of our day is that we can find truth within ourselves and we need to live according to that. When we come to the scriptures we’re confessing to God, “the truth is not in me, it’s in You.”
We’ve gone to great lengths to teach our students the H.E.A.R method of reading scripture— Highlight, Explain, Apply, Respond. This method can be used with every passage of scripture and is an easy start for people who are new to reading their Bible.
The other emphasis we have is encouraging students to schedule their time with God. If we were to schedule a day and time for a meeting but not specify a location, the chances of us meeting are slim. The same is true with God. Many times we don’t sit down to read our Bibles because we have no idea when, where, or what we’re reading.
When we worship we are resisting the idea that we’re God. Campuses are primarily student focused, which makes sense because the institution is designed to equip students for lifelong work. The problem with that though, is that life isn’t about us. Too much focus on us can lead us to believe that life is about us. Life is about God. So when we worship, we’re saying, “This life isn’t about me, it’s about You God. You are the one worthy of all attention, praise, and honor.”
We want to give our students as many opportunities to worship as possible. We want them plugged into local churches, engaged in our Monday night worship, and engaged in a college ministry worship service at their local church. We want to invite them to worship focus nights as well. During those times God seems to convict of sin, draw people to next steps, and ultimately turn our attention away from the world and onto the person of Jesus.
Fasting may be the least popular spiritual discipline there is! But when we fast we are resisting the idea that we can be satisfied with the world’s temporal pleasures. Many of our worldly experiences are pleasure driven so setting aside time to intentionally give up earthly pleasures in order to experience God is crucial to our formation as Christ followers.
Psalm 42:1 says, “as the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” One day I wanted to feel how much my soul longed for God’s presence so I decided to fast from water, or any other liquid. It didn’t last long. Did you know we can hardly live without water? I found out that day! Do you know what I also found out? That my soul can hardly live without God’s presence. I see that day as a clear shift for me in how desperately I approached spending time with God on a daily basis.
For our students living within these formation machines, it’s important for them to know that the One who deserves their total allegiance is God. Spiritual disciplines are markers we set up in our day-to-day rhythms that remind us that God is the source of all life and our souls are desperate for His presence.
Freshmen coming into college will more than likely be a totally different person when they leave campus after 4-6 years. The question is, who will they become and how can we help them become more like Jesus? Our objective is to work as hard as possible to help them set up spiritual disciplines that will become spiritual rhythms that will aid in their spiritual formation for the rest of their lives.